MH Interviews: serizawa
Hi everyone! We meet again. This week, I proudly present serizawa one of the S-Rank Translators. This interview is quite long but provides a lot of great advice to all you translators out there. So try and take a moment and read it^^. That said, on with the interview!
1. First of all, thank you for agreeing to do this interview. Can you please give an introduction of yourself?
I'm serizawa - this is an alias, not my real name. I'm a sansei, grandson of Japanese ancestry. I am a manga translator, both as a fan and as a pro, working as a freelancer for a publisher since 2001.
Here at MH, I am one of the guys who evaluate translators for ranking purposes. Seen many great people there.
Also, I translate Drifters, Saint Young Men and Shinobi no Kuni. Haven't seen any new raws for Shinobi no Kuni, so it's on halt. Lately, haven't had time for SYM, but I haven't dropped it. So, Drifters is the only series that I am actively translating right now, I guess
I don't translate just manga - actually, translating manga is something relatively new to me. I've been working for about 15 years as a translator, handling things from restaurant menus to tech manuals.
Oh, and I'm a male, despite my avatar. And I'm a vegetarian
2. How did you start learning Japanese and how long have you been studying the language? What was it like translating manga for the first time? What other skills are needed for this profession?
My case may be a bit different from other translators, since Japanese was the first language I learned.
As I wrote before, I'm a grandson of Japanese, and my family still follows some pre-WWII views on education. So, even though I don't live in Japan, I've been raised in a Japanese-speaking environment since childhood. English came later on
Therefore, you can say that I've been studying Japanese for more than 25 years
The first time I translated manga was in 1992, for a friend of mine who wanted to read Ranma. As there was no MangaHelpers, no scanner, nothing, I had to sit beside him, point at the balloon and speak the translation
It was a fun experience, I must say. On the other hand, when he wanted me to translate Doraemon anime for him... My first attempts at fandubbing weren't a beautiful sight to behold!
As for skills needed for this profession - I assume that you are talking about being a pro translator.
Well, the primary skills are:
1) a good understanding of the Japanese language;
2) a good understanding of the language you want to translate to.
I think that goes without saying.
And especially when it comes to manga, you must have also
3) a good grip on cultural issues.
It's not only about cultural references; you must understand the Japanese reader and the Japanese writer (author), so that you can render the text appropriately in your language. I think this is a frequently overlooked issue.
Therefore, spending some time in Japan is a huge plus - you start to understand the logic behind some Japanese behaviors and ways of thinking.
Besides, Japan is really a great place to visit
3. It shows that you have passed not only the JLPT (Japanese Language Proficiency Test) Level 1 test but also the J1+ BJT (Business Japanese Test JETRO) test in your translator profile. Can you give us an idea of the standards required to pass those tests, and what one can expect if they take them? What did you do to prepare for these tests? Any tips on what to work on?
Well, about the standards required to pass those texts, I would point to the sites of the exams.
The site for JLPT is:
For level 1, it says:
The examinee has mastered grammar to a high level, knows around 2,000 kanji and 10,000 words, and has an integrated command of the language sufficient for life in Japanese society. This level is normally reached after studying Japanese for around 900 hours.
It must be noted that JLPT has recently changed. Now there are five levels, ranging from N1 to N5, where N1 is the highest level, being equivalent to level 1 (ikkyu).
And the site of the BJT exam is
BJT is similar to TOEFL, TOEIC and GRE. There are ranks, not levels, according to your score. You don't take a J1+ exam, you get a J1+ rank.
The site says:
J1+: Able to communicate sufficiently in Japanese in any business situation
While it does seem a bit vague, those who deal with business Japanese know that it's some real tough stuff. Especially keigo.
As for preparation, I can't be taken as a reference, since I did no preparation at all for both exams. My purpose was solely to check my level, so I didn't study at all
To make matters worse(?), when I took the JLPT exam, it was on a Sunday morning, so I was really sleepy on that day. And there was a break during the exam, so I decided to take a nap. When I woke up, the exam had already resumed, and it was Listening Comprehension, so I did lose some points there!
And when I took BJT some 5 years ago, I was more worried about finishing my PhD Engineering thesis, so I took the test without expecting anything. J1+ was a real surprise for me, I must admit.
Also, this entitled me to take an oral exam in Japan, so I drew my savings and went there to take the exam. Unfortunately, I got so nervous on the day that I botched it up and didn't get a good grade.
As for the exams, both are multiple choice. This allows some strategies to narrow down your choices and improve your chances.
But expect to see many similar answers, so caution is needed.
I guess reading is a key issue to get a good score. Especially, paying close attention to particles like は, が, に, で, から etc., till it becomes intuitive for you what particle to use. This should help a lot in JLPT.
And by "reading", I'm talking about getting used to the formal (correct) Japanese language. The language you see in most manga isn't the language used in JLPT nor in BJT, so take care!
For improving your listening comprehension, I suggest watching Japanese TV news programs. If you don't have access to them, try using KeyholeTV. The sound stream comes in an awful quality, but at least you can train your ear.
For BJT, you must have a thorough understanding of keigo. Familiarity with sonkeigo, teineigo and kenjogo is essential, so I would focus my efforts here.
As the name says, BJT is specific for business Japanese. So, I suggest taking JLPT first and then BJT.
Also, if possible, I strongly suggest to do mock exams. It will show you not only how hard (or easy) the exam is, but also how the questions are put, what could be possible "traps" for you to choose the wrong answer, etc.
The JLPT site has a sample of a N2 level question:
And BJT also has some samples:
4. In your profile it shows that you've been active in the scene for a while now, from subbing to scanlating. What's your opinion on how the scanlation scene has changed in the last few years compared to the early-2000s? What do you feel is the future for scanlations?
Well, things back then were simpler. Scanlation was something unusual to see, simply because few people had scanners available.
Not only that, few people had a good Internet bandwidth. And downloading, say, 10MB of scans in a 33600bps connection wasn't exactly the fastest thing of the world!
The concept of "scanlation groups" was still in its beginnings. Usually you had fans of one manga who would group together and scanlate material of this manga for the fan community, and that was it. Nothing like today, when it's becoming common to start a scanlation group first and then decide what titles to scanlate.
Also, I think there was a more friendly atmosphere. It was really something from fans to fans. Nowadays, you see people with just too many desires and too big an ego, unfortunately. It's really sad to see some people lacking even the most basic courtesy and education. But luckily, there are still many great people hanging around.
It would take a large post to get into details about the difference between past and present, so I'll stop here.
Talking about the future, now. I think scanlation has come to stay. This has somes really important consequences - it would take another huge post to discuss them, but one thing I can say is that user generated content is getting more relevant than ever.
However, publishers still don't know how to cope with that - just like music and mp3/flac P2P networks. So, I guess a major shift in current business models is on the way, and whoever comes up with the most profitable model will have a good chance to get the lion's share of the manga (and anime) market.
5. Having been part of a fansubbing group, scanlation groups, and as a freelancer for a publisher can you share anything interesting you've experienced behind the scenes in a group or in the professional world? Care to share any of the mangas that you've translated that you feel proud of doing either in the fansubbing, scanlating or professional world?
Once, the licenser of a certain anime wanted to get it dubbed. So, they hired the publisher I work for to translate it. And the publisher hired me to do the translation.
The deal was: the licenser would send us the scripts, I would work on them and send them to the dubbing studio.
I was expecting them to send me the scripts, starting from the first episode, so to get the general idea of the characters, settings and all.
But to my surprise, the first script I got was for the 6th episode of an anime of just 13 eps or so! Lots of things happening and character development going on, and I was totally lost!
And I had no video to check the context, the characters and their lines, so you can imagine how clueless I was!
To make matters worse, the next scripts were also random episodes, so I had a real tough time trying to figure out what was going on.
Also, I found later that there was a lot of ad-lib, so the scripts weren't that useful - they were completely wrong in some passages.
Fortunately, most of the assumptions I made proved correct, so I didn't make any major mistake, but still, a more nitpicky viewer can certainly find out some "interesting stuff"...
The cool thing is that the voice actors took my suggestions for performance and they did a really great job, making it a very fun show to watch.
As for mangas that I'm proud, I must say that I'm proud of every manga I translated, professionally or not.
The translator gives life to all characters and narrations, so, in a sense, he/she is like a co-creator of the manga. And if the creator can't love his/her creation, then something is really wrong. This is particularly true in fan translation and scanlation - hey, you are doing it for love, not for money.
I put all my efforts in every manga, so that the reader can have a reading experience as similar as possible to Japanese readers. Obviously, this has a price - not everyone likes the way I adapt. But sorry, I can't afford to call the reader an idiot who can only read insipid texts.
6. How does working "underground" differ or are similar to working in the professional world? How did you come to work as a pro? Any advice on would-be translators who want to become pros?
As you can see, sometimes the so-called "professional" world is worse than the "underground" world.
But I think there is a fundamental difference in a pro world and in a non-pro world: as a pro, you must have this pride to always do your best, no matter what.
If you are a non-pro, you may afford to release material that isn't perfect - anyone who ever read a speed scanlation knows that for sure.
But if you are a pro, you can't afford to do that. You may have only several hours to translate a whole tankobon (manga volume). Even so, you must translate it in the best fashion.
I guess this is a fundamental difference.
Some people would say that money is also a fundamental difference - pros get paid, non-pros don't. While I would have agreed with this some years ago, I don't fully agree anymore, since there are scanlators who actually earn money for their work now. So, money isn't the main difference anymore.
I started as a pro manga translator after - guess what - taking a scanlation I did back in 2000 to the publisher. The editor liked it and then I started working, to make things simple.
Advice for people who want to be a pro manga translator? I have two:
1) Put love in your work. Your skills must be of a professional, and therefore you always have to study and to improve, but your stance must be of an amateur, in the original sense of the word: "amateur" comes from a Latin word that means "someone who loves". So, never forget to love what you do.
2) Have pride in what you do. You may be bashed for the choices you make in your translations, but never indulge yourself in delivering a poor work for whatever reasons. This is part of the ethics of a pro.
I believe that translation techniques can be learned, but the stance of a pro translator must come from inside, from your heart. And this stance is what makes you a pro or not.
7. Do you consider fansubbing harder than scanlating? Which one do you prefer to work on? Do you have any reasons as to why you're not subbing now?
I think fansubs and scanlations have challenges of their own. Fansubs have a painstaking process called "timing", and scanlations have a really tough thing called "cleaning".
So, I can't really say which one is harder. Speaking strictly as a translator, I prefer to work on scanlation, since it's easier to keep track of the lines. But that's just my personal opinion.
I'm not in the fansub field right now because fansubbing demands lots of time, which is something I don't have, and because lately I haven't seen anything that catches my eye.
And those that get my attention are quickly fansubbed, so I prefer to leave the hard work to people who are willing to do the job.
8. You are one of the S-Rank Translators here at MangaHelpers. How do you feel about that? What do you like and dislike about this new translator level system? If you could change one major aspect of this new system what would it be?
Being a S-Rank means that you have little power and lots of responsibilities.
The whole translator level system depends on the S rank translators, so great care must be taken, so that the evaluation will be fair and that adequate guidance/advice will be offered, among other things. There are many things at stake, so a S rank translator does have plenty of responsibility.
As translation is something with lots of subjective issues, it's not possible to devise a totally objective way of ranking it.
But this level system is a very important step towards the improvement of fan translation quality and reliability overall.
Doing things as a fan doesn't mean - shouldn't mean - that you can indulge yourself in doing a mediocre work. Much on the contrary, if you are really a fan, you should strive to provide the best for the work you love!
And this level system is a help to achive such goal, since you get an assessment of your skills and tips for improvement. And for free!
My dream is to be able to give A rank to every translator, which would mean that every fan translation you see would be highly reliable. I hope such day will come one day!
This system is relatively new, so I can't think of any major changes for now - time and feedback are needed to show what can be improved. But one thing I'd do is to provide special benefits to higher rank translators, in order to honor such great people and to encourage others to get a higher rank.
9. Do you have any favorite manga or manga authors? Is there any manga currently serialized that interests you? Out of all the mangas that haven't been translated, why did you pick "Drifters"? What makes it so good?
I have no favorite manga author, because the same author can produce works that are completely different - for instance, Urasawa Naoki in "Master Keaton" is unlike Urasawa in "Pluto", which in turn is diverse from the same Urasawa in "Yawara!".
I have a rather eclectic taste and I read a lot of manga, ranging from Addicted to Curry and Sket Dance to Kindaichi Case Files and Yami no aegis, so it's really hard to single out a favorite manga. Not to mention that I like stuff like Munakata Kyouju Denkikou and Onmyouji.
Were I to choose one, I guess it would be Rurouni Kenshin. Not only because of its great artwork and plot, but also because thanks to it, I could meet and have a great time with many people from around the world. I miss those times!
Currently, I am addicted to "The Legend of Koizumi" (Mudazumo naki kaikaku). It's got to be the most badass comedy mahjong action politics manga and anime ever!
It's impossible not to become a fan of Koizumi Junichiro and Vladimir Putin after reading this manga. Highly recommended!
As for Drifters, I chose it because it is a monthly release, so I thought I could manage to translate it, and because HiraKo (Kohta Hirano, the author) comes up with great lines and "oomph", so I thought it would be great to translate.
It is still a work in its early stages, but there are already some great characters, so I expect a lot from Drifters! If you haven't read it, give it a try.
10. Are there any other hobbies or things that you like to work on in your spare time?
Well, I am learning viola (or Bratsche or Alto). A lesser known string instrument, often mistaken for a violin, but has this deep, mellow tone that is simply great!
Also, I do practice some traditional Japanese martial arts.
I like hanging out with friends, going to the movies and all. And read manga, of course.
Other than that, I love sleeping! A pity that I haven't had much time for that lately
11. Do you have any advice for new translators?
I suggest picking up a series that they really like. It doesn't matter if it has already been translated or not. Translating something that you like will help you in the first stages to make quicker progress.
Also, if you have doubts, don't hesitate to ask! MH is a great place for you to ask your questions. There are several people who are more than willing to help you, so feel free to ask in the Help a Translator forums or in the Translations' Academy!
12. Thank you very much for the interview! Do you have a message that you'd like to pass on to all of your fans?
Thanks for interviewing me and for being such a great interviewer, with so many intelligent questions.
And my goodness, I wonder who will read all this lengthy amount of text!
Last, but not least, I would like to thank everyone who makes all this manga world go round, fans, authors, everyone! これからもよろしくお願いします！
You can also find serizawas' translation here:
Saint Young Men
Shinobi no Kuni
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